Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
in my hand as if it could last . . . hailstone — Kath Abela Wilson, Frogpond, Volume 44:3 (2021)
Nick T is delighted:
This poem delights in some many ways. There is a beautiful sense of lightness created by such a delicate, transient image. Also, I love the way the contrast between the warmth of the hand and the cold of the hailstone engages my sense of touch. But, for me, this poem stands out because of its mujō, a quality of impermanence or transience expressed in the second line where the use of an ellipsis as the kireji further emphasizes the brief passage of time before the hailstone melts. A lovely, delicate poem which captures the moment with child-like clarity. Thank you, Peggy, for choosing this delightful haiku.
Lakshmi Iyer observes the inanimate:
We always build stories of the animate, those things with life force, their impact, effects and causes. But do we think of the inanimate forms that are natural phenomena on earth and which bring such a difference to nature’s conservation and destruction?
The poet is very much aware of hailstones and that they never last long. And yet she has so cleverly included “in my hand/ as if it could last.” Nothing is permanent. It is this beauty of impermanence that we get caught up in, and we try to pacify ourselves about the possibility of an impossible act: to catch hold of a hailstone. It is just a clumsy piece of ice, and yet how fond we are of it. It is this child-like act and innocence that lifts up this poem.
Sushama Kapur considers what’s ephemeral:
Could there be a tussle of sorts in the first two lines? Of conviction (that something ephemeral has the ability to last forever) and doubt supported by logic and scientific knowledge. How could a hailstone last? It will surely melt, given that it is being held in the hand of a warm-blooded mammal.
It’s a beautiful poem: tender, a little sad and regretful. And wishful, too. This little hailstone, a gift from the skies, the poet wishes would stay on, it looks so right on the palm: “as if it could last.”
But like everything else on earth, its life is time-bound. The ellipsis perhaps marks the period of time it does remain on the hand. And surely this moment is captured, to live on in the mind and heart of the poet . . . and now in this haiku!
Keith Evetts is engaged by contrast:
Hailstones (arare) are a kigo or season word for winter, and so they have appeared in many a haiku, generally exploiting their implacable sound (on Basho’s cypress-slat hat, for example), or their hard, cold quality on impact that must be accepted along with better things in Santoka’s begging bowl; occasionally, as fallen jewels for children to play among, in one of Basho’s more lyrical moments. But I am not aware of other examples where their impermanence is highlighted as in Kath Abela Wilson’s excellent haiku. Here, the cold hardness of hail is juxtaposed with the warmth of a hand, an instability that extends the scene beyond the moment into the future. The tiny sketch of the hailstone and the hand is opened up by the middle line: “as if it could last,” an invitation to the author and the reader to meditate. And the magic word is “it”!
“It” could be the hailstone, the cold inanimate ice; or life itself embodied in the warm human hand. In the warmth, the hailstone will quickly melt away as the author watches. But how long before the hand itself becomes cold ice? As if life could continue forever.
I once sheltered from a storm in Mozambique where the hailstones reached a measured four-and-a-half inches. One of them lasted for a very long time in our freezer. But like all things, it came to an end.
As this week’s winner, Keith gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
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cold moon — a moment of hesitation years ago — John Stevenson, The Heron's Nest, Volume VIII, Number 4 (2006)